Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cell Phone Usage Trends

Be prepared to feast your eyes on a bunch of data!

The idea of this project came from two events. First, my Mom and sister recently joined my phone plan. As such, our costs are different and I'm curious to see how they actually use their phones. Second, for another project it was suggested that I learn how to use R - an open source statistical tool. So, I thought this would be a good occasion to take it out for a spin.

Well.. I didn't get too far on the R side of things. I was able to generate the chart at the top in about 10 minutes. It's pretty cool except for one not-so-small problem. Looking at the x-axis: what does 200 mean? Well, basically, it's the 200th call I during this billing cycle. I wanted to change the x-axis to reflect dates, but after 40 minutes of reading tutorials I gave up. So, not even a full hour in and I decided to move on.

With my brief time with R, it looks pretty cool and potentially very powerful. I'm not convinced it's the best tool for doing ad hoc data displays, but generating repeat reports or doing more advanced stats might be right up it's alley. I'll learn more over time, but for the remainder of my time I switched back to trusty ol' Excel.

Anyways, on with the findings!

I've broken this up into 3 parts: Phone minutes, text messages and data used. It's pretty cool to see the differences in how each of us use our phones. For context, here's what we're all using:

Dawn (Mom) -> iPhone
James (Me) -> iPhone
Jessi (Wife) -> iPhone
Matthew (Brother) -> Feature Phone
Lisa (Sister) ->  Feature Phone

Phone Minutes
First we'll look at minutes used. I don't differentiate on whether the minutes are free (off peak, A-list, or mobile-to-mobile), but just focus on how much the device is used.

Well, I'm clearly the winner when it comes to talking on the phone. This isn't a surprise since I use my phone for work. If you take a quick look a the graph up top you'll notice I either have short conversations or talk for about an hour. It's also not a surprise that my mom and Lisa have similar total minutes because a majority of their calls are to each other.

Next I decided to break it out by the day of the week.

Apparently Monday is a great day to talk. I'll have to ask Matthew who he chats with on Mondays. I'm also surprised with how consistent Lisa is. Since she has classes 2 days I week I would have expected to see those days lower. Interesting.

Then I got a little "stats fancy". I wanted to see the average length of a phone call. However, just looking at the averages wasn't good enough. I also wanted to see a relative spread. So, the dot is the average. The blue lines are a single standard deviation; it gives a feel for the range in which most of the calls fall.

So when my mom and Lisa talk, they're super fast conversations. This follows what I've observed: Lisa will call my mom multiple times a day just to say hi. My distribution is so spread out because of those office calls. The data actually looks bi-variate to me, which means there are really two patters merging. It would take a lot of effort (too much to actually do it), but it would be cool to separate my work vs. personal calls. I'd probably find that my patter falls closer to Jessi's.

Text Messages
Next we'll take a look at text messages. I bundled MMS and SMS together.

And I thought Matthew sent a lot of text messages! If Matthew and Lisa are any sign of where the world is heading..  Wow! You can't read it because of Matthew and Lisa, but my mom is right under 300 and Jessi & I are just above 200. I guess it's a good thing we have the unlimited plan. By the way, Lisa is averaging 80 text messages a day. Matthew only sends 51 a day. Who are they sending all of these to?

I thought it would be interesting to again break up the days of the week.

I'm trying to figure out what it is Jessi and I do on Tuesdays which results in a bunch of texts being sent. Matthew also drops way off on the weekends. That's probably because he's actually hanging out with his girlfriend and therefore doesn't need to text her as often.

Data Used
This next group was a total surprise to me. This does not include accessing the internet via wi-fi. I'm sure if it did, I would give my mom a run for it.

This is the second month my mom has had her phone and she's clearly figured out the power of the iPhone.

Next I looked a the number of times we access the internet using the data network. This includes anytime we check our email, use the browser, or use an app which connects online.

OK - weird. I use the phone for internet related activities just as much as my mom, but have the lowest overall usages. What's up with that? Furthermore, when Jessi gets online, she means business. What is she doing? I'll explain what I think it is in just a little bit.

First, here's another look at our average usage measured in Mega Bytes.

So, I had a little look into the usage pattern of my mom. It turns out she likes to use her phone for directions. When she does, it uses a ton of data. You can see these huge spikes (which makes the rest of the graph worthless) that go from 1MB to 15MB.

For me, it's just a bunch of super quick look-ups. I'll turn my email app on to let the messages load. Turn the phone off. Look at my news feed. Phone off. Look at email that's loaded. Phone off. Add something to my to-do list. Phone off. Add something else to my to-do list that I just remembered. Phone off. And so on. Without multi-tasking all of those are independent tasks.

Jessi can't stand the constant bouncing. When she decides to use her phone, she sticks with one app at a time. She also likes to use Pandora which uses a lot of data.

So there you have it. Lots of data as promised. No real conclusions, just interesting to look at.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Facebook's Implied Agency Contract

From Flowing Data, one of my favorite blogs
Jessi and I have started talking a real estate management class and it's been a ton of fun. The first part of the class talked about the Agent / Principal Relationship. I'm not sure why these terms were chosen, but the Principal is the owner of something (a house, a car, their body) and the Agent is someone one acts on behalf of the Principal. Here are a couple examples:
  • A real estate agent (Agent) sells a house of a home owner (Principal).
  • A husband (Agent) can make medical decisions for his wife (Principal) if she's incapable.
  • The CEO (Agent) runs a company for the stockholders (Principals).
What we've learned is that there are many types of relationships. Some are very explicit where it's spelled out exactly what the Agent can do for the Principal - called an Express Contract. In many ways, this is what a privacy policy is: it clearly states what a company (Agent) can, and cannot, do with a user's data (Principal).

There's another type of relationship called an Implied Contract. The idea behind this one is that if the Agent does something and the Principal doesn't say "Don't do that", then that action becomes part of the contract. Here's an example:

You're standing in line to checkout at the grocery store. Suddenly, somebody cuts in front you. If you've been in this position, you know there's a short amount of time when you can say something. You also know that eventually there comes a point in time that if you haven't said anything yet... it's too late and that person will get to stay there. Otherwise, it would be completely awkward to mention it because you've let them stay there so long already. You have implicitly allowed them to cut.

Another way to think about an Implied Contract vs. an Express Contract:
An Implied Contract is seeking forgiveness
An Express Contract is asking permission

OK, that's the concept. Now for the application: Facebook.

I like the service that Facebook provides. I enjoy connecting with my friends and reading about what they're up to. However, I do not like Facebook the company. I am apprehensive about their intentions and don't like the way they implement many of their changes... I know. I know. I'm just as hypocritical as someone who hates Walmart but shops there anyways because "they have such ridiculously low prices."

Anyways, last week was the Web 2.0 summit and  Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's Founder and CEO, was interviewed. In the blog post's recap there was one paragraph that stuck out to me:

"The conversation also turned to Facebook’s habit of asking for forgiveness rather than permission. Zuckerberg didn’t really address this directly, choosing instead to discuss the value of the relationship between people who have deemed each other friends. Yes, it’s possible to tag someone in a bad photo or add them to spammy groups, but the user made the decision to add this person as their friend, which confers that power to them. The answer Zuckberberg can’t say: pushing the limits without asking for permission is what allowed Facebook to grow this much, this quickly."

You see, whenever Facebook changes something, they do it in hopes that not enough people say "Don't do that." With over 500 million users, the chances of enough people rejecting the changes (and voting with their clicks), is so small that Facebook doesn't have to worry about it. Worse yet, now Facebook has set an Implied Contract of being able to make changes and forcing it upon people.

This really bothers me.

As such, I have a hopeful prediction regarding the future of Facebook. The nice part about the web is that I don't have to wait too long to see if it comes true. Here's my prediction:

I don't think I'm the only one who doesn't like the way Facebook (the company) treats me. I think many people feel trapped like I do: so many of my friends are already on Facebook that if I want to get any sort of interaction (comments, likes, etc.), I too need to be on there. This situation feels very similar to what Microsoft had just a little while ago with their operating system.

My prediction is that a true competitor will emerge sometime in the future. It will probably never be as big as Facebook just because Facebook has reached a tipping point, but it will address many of the issues I have. When that option emerges, I will definitely be checking it out. I know it will also force Facebook to change how it treats users, which is good for everyone.

Side note: Facebook is proud to own the "social graph" - all your friend connections. Wouldn't be interesting if they continue to "own" it, but all the sharing and interaction happens on other sites. Yes Facebook, you won, but it just might have been the wrong fight...

Finally, one of the things that has kept Microsoft (and Google too, I suppose) so dominate is that it makes ridiculous amounts of money. That allows it to afford the resources to keep innovating and at the very least buying competitors before they become a true threat. Facebook has yet to attain that type of revenue stream. This leaves them vulnerable. If another group is able to create a similar (preferably better) product, and generate strong revenue off it - just like Google did - then Facebook will be in major trouble... And I won't feel bad for them.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Harry Potter and the Audio Book

I feel like I've mentioned this before, but I can't find it anywhere, so I must not have...

For the last 6 months I've been listening to the Harry Potter books (I'm a huge fan of audio books after all). I recently finished the 6th book with one more to go. With the first part of the last movie coming out, I've hit a decision point: Push ahead with the last book and then watch the movies later? Or watch the first movie now and listen to the book after I've seen both parts (which won't be until summer time)?

So far I've enjoyed each of the movies and am afraid I'll ruin the last movie if I read the book first. After all, the books really are much better than the movies.

After (probably too much) debating, I've decided I'm going to hold off on the last book until I've seen both parts of the last movie. I figure I'm not in a rush to finish the series, and after being immersed in the Harry Potter world for the last 6 months, I really am looking forward to seeing all the movies again.

On a final note, which has to be caveated since I haven't seen or heard the last book, I'd like to share my favorites so far:

My favorite movie is Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (4).
My favorite book is Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (6).
Harry Potter and the Order Of The Phoenix (5) is probably my least favorite.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Hulu.com - A Disturbing Trend

I do not have cable. I don't even own a television. The only way Jessi and I watch something is on our computers. The only two services we really depend on are Netflix and Hulu. Netflix continues to be amazing. I pay $9 a month to get 1 DVD at a time plus unlimited online streaming. Over time, their library has been expanding and so have the devices I can watch on - all of it commercial free. Netflix is awesome, and probably part of the reason why I'm suddenly leery of Hulu.

We use Hulu to watch are favorite TV shows (Chuck, The Office, and Bones). When we first started, we technically didn't have commercials. We would get a black screen saying Hulu couldn't load a message from their sponsors (just like the picture). It was great! A 15-30 second break to take a pause and then right back to the show.

Eventually, Hulu figured out their problem and began successfully showing commercials. It still wasn't too bad because it was still only a single 15-30 second commercial and the cost was free. However, the start of this fall things changed. Now Hulu shows 2 commercials where each range from 30 seconds, to one that was 1 minute, 15 seconds. Furthermore, if you want to watch Hulu on anything other than your computer's browser, it'll cost you $10 per month - commercials still included.

I can clearly see where this is headed.

I can easily imagine a day where Hulu is making me sit through 3 to 4 minutes of commercials and still charging me $10 per month for that privilege - even for 1st run shows. Since I only watch these 3 shows, the math starts to break down. $2/show on iTunes * 22 episodes * 3 Shows = $132 per year. That's only $1 more per month - which I can watch on any device I own and has no commercials. If I'm really patient, I can wait until the DVDs come out and watch them on Netflix for no additional cost.

I suppose another solution is to stop watching TV all together and then I really don't care about what Hulu does, but that doesn't seem to be an immediate option.

If I worked for Hulu, my advice would be to cut the monthly price to $8 per month and cut the commercials back down to a minimum (with sometimes no commercials. Pandora does this. A company will pay to NOT play audio, but just display an ad while the next song plays.).

If I worked for Netflix, my advice would be to figure out how to get streaming TV shows as they're happening, or at most 1 week after they air. I would even pay another $2 per month if they offered my 3 shows that way. If they did that, I would switch fully over to Netflix for all my TV shows and movies.

Maybe I'm coming to conclusions too soon, but in my opinion Hulu is headed down a negative track. If this continues, I'll be on the look out for a replacement, even if the video quality isn't as good.